Uptake and utility of VET qualifications

By Patrick Korbel, Josie Misko Research report 18 November 2016 978 1 925173 67 3

Description

Training packages and accredited courses are the core training products of the nationally accredited vocational education and training (VET) system in Australia. This report considers the use of these training packages and the qualifications contained within them. It also examines the pattern of enrolments in qualifications to determine how extensively the qualifications in the training package system are being used and whether enrolments are evenly spread amongst qualifications or concentrated in particular qualifications and training packages.

Finally the report explores the number of qualifications that could be rationalised or consolidated, including identifying low and zero enrolment qualifications and models those which cover related occupational areas.

Summary

About the research

Training packages and accredited courses are the core training products of the nationally accredited vocational education and training (VET) system in Australia. Developed in consultation with industry, they define the units of competency, the qualifications and the guidelines against which competency performance can be assessed.

Review and reform of national training products has been actively pursued by training ministers through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Industry and Skills Council (CISC).

At the request of the National Training Product Reform Working Group, the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) recently convened a symposium on training products reform. This symposium (held in September 2016) gathered a range of expert voices from across the sector to reflect on and provide suggestions for how the system could be improved. This research report complements the symposium discussions.

The research findings build on the picture of the Australian VET sector provided by the recent NCVER reports, Making sense of total VET activity: an initial market analysis (Anlezark & Foley 2016) and VET provider market structures: history, growth and change (Korbel & Misko 2016). Together, these three reports provide analysis of the national VET system, the diversity and growth of training providers, and the uptake and use of qualifications.

Key messages

  • Analysis of Total VET students and courses 2015 shows 20 training packages supported 90% of the enrolments and the remaining 57 training packages had 10% of all enrolments. Two training packages accounted for around 30% of enrolments.
  • Analysis also shows that enrolments in training package qualifications are heavily concentrated in relatively few qualifications. In 2015, 200 qualifications (12%) accounted for 85% of the enrolments, while the remaining group of 1444 qualifications (88%) had some 15% of enrolments. Some 14 qualifications accounted for 25% of all enrolments.
  • There were 283 qualifications that recorded no enrolments over a two-year period (2014—15), with these spread across 49 training packages.
  • The results show that enrolments in training packages and their related qualifications exhibit very wide extremes in their uptake (based on training provider submissions to the National VET Provider Collection). This dispersion is a reflection of student choice, training provider offerings and also the complexity of present arrangements in establishing and managing training package qualifications, which imposes significant administrative burden across the VET sector.
  • Other nations have implemented policy regarding more rigorously reviewing and rationalising their equivalent training products and qualifications. Such policies help to reinforce qualifications that are valued and contemporary, as well as limiting their number. Policies are also directed at improving overall design, such that related occupations have meaningful commonality and utility in qualifications, the aim being to provide students greater flexibility in preparing for an uncertain labour market.

Dr Craig Fowler
Managing Director, NCVER

Executive summary

Nationally recognised vocational education and training (VET) in Australia is mainly constituted by enrolments in qualifications or skill sets, as defined in the various training products. Qualifications and skill sets themselves are comprised of units of competency, which are nationally agreed statements of the skills and knowledge required for effective performance in a particular job or function. Qualifications are aligned to the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) and are developed through nation-wide industry consultations.

The responsibility for ensuring that training products meet the skills needs of industry rests with the Australian Industry and Skills Committee (AISC), supported by advice from industry reference committees (IRCs) and development services provided by skills service organisations (SSOs).

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Industry and Skills Council (CISC) commissioned a review of training packages and accredited courses in October 2014. At the November 2015 meeting of the Industry and Skills Council, Ministers agreed to a suite of reforms to the system. These reforms focus on areas such as:

  • improving information available about qualifications as well as removing those that may be obsolete or superfluous
  • easing transitions between related occupations
  • creating units of training that are shared between industries
  • improving recognition of skill sets
  • making better use of accredited courses.

This report contributes data and analyses in regard to these ongoing reforms. In the past, analyses of the uptake of qualifications could only use data on government-funded training activity, which did not provide a holistic view of the training occurring in the sector, especially the use of qualifications.

This research report focuses on the uptake and utility of enrolments in training package qualifications, as reported in Total VET students and courses 2015 (NCVER 2016). Access to total VET activity allows us to conduct a more comprehensive analysis, including government-funded and fee-for-service training activity.

Among the 4.5 million VET students enrolled in training with an Australian training provider in 2015 were 3.5 million program enrolments (that is, enrolments in recognised programs such as skill sets or qualifications) and 29.4 million subject enrolments (for example, enrolments in units of competency). There were 2.7 million program enrolments in training package qualifications (77% of program enrolments) and 23.0 million subject enrolments in training package qualifications (78% of subject enrolments).

From training.gov.au1 we obtained a list of qualifications and information on how these map to each other. We then combined these data with VET enrolment data held by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER). To obtain a more accurate picture of the distribution of enrolments across qualifications, recently superseded qualifications had to be identified and their enrolments assigned to the current qualifications to which they now related. Superseded qualifications with no recorded enrolments were then eliminated. This consolidation enabled us to produce a list of around 1600 ‘in use’ qualifications.

We used this consolidated list to analyse the distribution of enrolments across qualifications and training packages, this process revealing a very strong concentration of enrolments in relatively few qualifications. Two hundred qualifications attracted some 85% of all enrolments, with the remaining 15% of enrolments spread around 1400 qualifications; 14 qualifications account for around 25% of all enrolments, while, at the other end of the scale, there were 110 enrolments in this 25% of qualifications. This pattern is also evident among enrolments in training packages, whereby 20 training packages accounted for 90% of all enrolments and 26 training packages had fewer than 1000 enrolments.

This concentration of enrolments in relatively few qualifications and training packages reinforces the need for one of the agreed reforms arising from the Industry and Skills Council review; that is, to identify and remove obsolete and superfluous qualifications, with the aim of simplifying engagement with the training system.

However, it is important to note that low enrolments in qualifications and packages do not automatically imply obsolescence, although questions do arise:

  • If these qualifications are genuinely obsolete or superfluous, can they be removed or consolidated into other qualifications?
  • Are training needs in such areas being met by other means (for example, by non-accredited training or by nationally and locally recognised courses)?
  • Are they important qualifications valued for low-demand occupations, which nevertheless require specific and specialised training?

In New Zealand, Scotland and the United Kingdom, qualifications are flagged for review and potential removal if they attract no enrolments over a period of two years. This test, if applied to the Australian data, reveals there were 283 qualifications that had no recorded enrolments over a two-year period (2014—15) — around 17% of the current or ‘in use’ qualifications. Furthermore, there were 336 qualifications with no enrolments in 2015, about a third of which were released in 2015 and a third of which were released in 2012. The qualifications with zero enrolments in 2015 were spread across a range of qualification levels, fields of education and training packages.

Recently, research has also been published on the concept of broader qualifications, those with the potential to form streams or routes into related occupational areas, the argument being that such design allows extra flexibility and transitions between occupations and training. This has been examined in Australia by Wheelahan, Buchanan and Yu (2015) and has been flagged for implementation in the United Kingdom’s Post-16 Skills Plan (UK Department for Business, Innovation & Skills & Department for Education 2016). The idea is also reflected in the reforms agreed to by Ministers to ease transitions between occupations and to improve the efficiency of the training system by creating units that can be shared across industry sectors.

To see how these concepts for creating broader qualification streams might apply in practice in the current Australian context, we consolidated qualifications according to their intended occupation and used this as a framework. Because most qualifications are assigned an ANZSCO (Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations) occupation, we used the hierarchical groupings in ANZSCO to create groups of related occupations. For example, our grouping of qualifications by occupation (with only one qualification assigned to each occupation) identified how different streams could be formed. The approach, which reduced the number of qualifications by around two-thirds (to 500 qualifications), is a potential tool for guiding the consolidation of qualifications (similar to flagging qualifications with zero enrolments).

The example of the Certificate III in Individual Support was examined in particular because it demonstrates how three related occupations (providing aged care, disability and home or community support) can be packaged into one qualification with separate specialisations. Using our system, we identified 10 qualifications with 129 466 enrolments between them, in areas related to that certificate III over two training packages. Using the occupational classification as a guide, this concept could be applied to other areas and other qualifications.

The approaches discussed in this report to rationalise qualifications, by either removal or design incorporating greater cross-relationship by occupation groups, are models. Any application of these approaches would require widespread consultation with relevant stakeholders.

1 Training.gov.au is the National Register on vocational education and training in Australia.

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